The Esoterism of Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils, –nor the human race, as I believe, –and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day.1

Having attended the new production of G. Verdi’s opera Macbeth at The Gothenburg Opera, I was quite surprised by the unexpected chosen interpretation of this great adaptation of Shakespeare’s masterpiece. Having a reputation of being a talented director, gifted with an ability for subtle shades of meaning, – and what is perhaps most important – always being faithful to the text and the music in the pieces he chooses to direct, Mr. David Radok seemed to choose a somewhat different path this time, in my opinion away from the very core of Verdi’s opera and of Shakespeare’s play.
Since this article is not intended to be a critical review of the production in question,
I will go directly to the heart of the matter.

In Radok’s version of the opera, the three kings – Duncan, Macbeth and Malcolm – are portrayed as dictators, styled with a communist-regime flare and they are displayed as being identical or equal. “A being that is absolutely identical to another, under every regard, would be one and the same with it… “many” beings that are equal, completely equal, would not be many, but one.”2 So in reality, they are meaningless robot-like duplicates.

It is more than obvious what the director is trying to say with this alteration, because, an alteration is what we are dealing with here. The mantra seems to be that the leaders of yesterday are basically the same as the leaders of today, therefore Macbeth “speaks to us” even to this day. Even though on the surface leaders may look more or less the same, they are very much different from each other on a deeper level, as we intent to explain further on.
However, Shakespeare and Verdi on the other hand, did not regard the three kings as being identical in any perspective and the kings are naturally displayed in this fashion neither in the play nor the opera. Therefore this concept raises a series of contradictions and problems.

The basis of the generally accepted version of the world we live in is the absurd idea of progress.
If the leaders of yesterday are the same as the leaders of today, it would seem to be in disharmony with this idea. Everything belonging to nature changes according to cycles and perhaps this is the reason for this unusual interpretation of the three kings being one and the same?
It is true that if we look at for instance a plant, it normally goes through a four-period-cycle in the principles of birth, blossom, withering and death. There is evidently a part that can be linked to a degenerating process. However, this concept would then in reality mean that things were better in the past and if one would go back far enough in time, to a golden age of humankind, we would find the opposite of today’s leader. This is the nub of the error, which makes Radok’s interpretation unintelligible and false.
The main question I must raise is this: Why is it morally wrong of Macbeth to kill Duncan, if they are the same and why then is it morally right of Malcolm (through Macduff) to kill Macbeth? If they are the same, as they are displayed in Mr. Radok’s concept, then where is the conflict? What is the purpose of writing such a play?
Macbeth’s guilt, agony, pain and nightmare-like visions would be entirely unmotivated if Duncan and Malcolm where displaying the same inferior moral or psychological nature as himself.
The esoteric core of both the play and the opera is manipulated and altered in order to provide room for the director’s outlook of the world and this outlook is a false one.

In The Convivio, Dante explains that “writings can be understood and ought to be expounded principally in four senses.”3 The literal, which is the first meaning, is the veil that is covering like a cloak or veil the three others, which Dante specifies as the allegorical, moral and anagogical or esoteric:

“In this kind of explication, the literal should come first, as being the sense in whose meaning the others are enclosed, and without which it would be impossible to and illogical to attend to the other senses, and especially the allegorical…
It is impossible to proceed to the form unless the subject on which the form must be imposed is prepared first.
… Consequently, since the literal meaning is always the subject and material of the other senses, especially of the allegorical, it is impossible to come to an understanding of them before coming to an understanding of it.”4

If the exoteric structure – subject, material and form – is changed or altered, the innermost core of the play, which is the esoteric element, will be lost or at least is being made unavailable to the audience.
“Exact form does not destroy freedom in art: it gives it wings.”5
“For just as grass spreads in an uncultivated field and overshoots and covers the spikes of wheat so that when seen from afar the wheat disappears, and the fruit is finally lost.”6
Therefore, the quality, and the effect it can possibly have on an audience is entirely dependent on the esoteric core and if this element is not present anymore, the higher purpose of the play is simply destroyed.
Traditional art always seems to incorporate this esoteric element, which per definition makes it traditional or sacred as opposed to modern art, where this element is absent, thus making it modernistic.

“The idea of different meanings existing simultaneously at different levels, however strange it may seem to us, was altogether familiar to men of letters throughout the Middle Ages and even later – witness Spencer’s The Faerie Queene.”7

We all “know” on a somewhat deeper level, most often in an unconscious way, that the downward path to the underworld on which Macbeth is travelling during the four acts of the play is the wrong one and it is also evident to us that the opposite path, the upward direction, is the right one. “The truth of the fall of man, remains indelibly written in the inner substance of the soul.”8 We intuitively perceive this because we are made of the same material – the spiritual and the material; light and darkness – and these opposites are active in us on an everyday basis.
These opposites are simply part of our nature and identity. Why then give the impression that the kings are composed of the same material when they’re not?
If an audience knows on a deeper level that Macbeth is degenerated and corrupt, then what is the opposite of these kinds of ideals? No ideals at all? Neutrality? Life will always provide us with situations where one sooner or later will be forced to choose how to react physically, mentally and spiritually. The opposite of degenerated and corrupt ideals are noble ideals; higher ideals.

As I have said in my article Subversion of the Arts, art is not simply to show “how-it-is”, but if this is being done, the opposite, that is an alternative or a higher reality must somehow be displayed or at least be made to be perceived on a subtle level.
“A supreme example of an esoteric work is The Divine Comedy which presupposes salvation and deals with man’s purification and his ultimate sanctification or in other words his regaining of what was lost at the fall.”9
“The sacred tendency present in the arts has genuinely aimed at opening up a path in the world of manifestation back towards the primordial origin.”10

  1. The Republic, Plato, book 5. []
  2. Men Among the Ruins, Julius Evola []
  3. The Convivio, Dante Alighieri, book 2, chapter 1. []
  4. Ibid. []
  5. The Relations between Religion and Art, Arthur Osborne, Artifex 2. []
  6. The Convivio, Dante Alighieri, book 4, chapter 7. []
  7. The Sacred Art of Shakespeare, Martin Lings. []
  8. Ibid. []
  9. Ibid. []
  10. Solum Ipsum, Metaphysical Aphorisms, Nr. 540, András László. []
, by victor This entry was posted in Metapolitics, Sacred Art. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback.


  1. Fatal error: Uncaught Error: Call to undefined function ereg() in /storage/content/06/227706/ Stack trace: #0 /storage/content/06/227706/ thematic_commenter_link() #1 /storage/content/06/227706/ cakra_comments(Object(WP_Comment), Array, 1) #2 /storage/content/06/227706/ Walker_Comment->start_el('', Object(WP_Comment), 1, Array) #3 /storage/content/06/227706/ Walker->display_element(Object(WP_Comment), Array, 1, 0, Array, '') #4 /storage/content/06/227706/ Walker_Comment->display_element(Object(WP_Comment), Arra in /storage/content/06/227706/ on line 262